Acer W3 8-inch Windows 8 tablet: First impressions

Acer W3 8-inch Windows 8 tablet: First impressions

Summary: Acer hit the market with a budget-friendly 8-inch tablet running Windows 8. The W3 has some good qualities along with some things that could be better.

Tablet docked
Iconia W3 with optional keyboard -- Image credit: James Kendrick/ ZDNet

Windows 8 is designed to run on devices with many form factors, and we're seeing quite a few of them. The 8-inch tablet is a highly mobile form that is now available on all of the major platforms, including Windows 8. The Acer Iconia W3 is a budget-friendly version with an Intel Atom processor that runs full Windows 8.

Bottom view
Bottom (L-R): Speaker (2); audio in/out; power

I've been using the W3 for a day and have some surprising first impressions. I also have Acer's keyboard/stand and portfolio case and will share thoughts on those accessories.

Hardware specs as reviewed:

  • Processor: Intel Atom 1.5GHz dual-core
  • Display: 8.1 in, 1280x800, multi-touch
  • Memory: 2GB
  • Storage: 64GB (32GB available)
  • Cameras: 2MP (both front and rear)
  • Ports/slots: microSD (handles up to 32GB), microUSB 2.0, microHDMI, 3.5mm audio in/out
  • Connectivity: Wi-fi, Bluetooth 4.0+EDR
  • Battery: 3500 mAh, up to 8 hours
  • Dimensions: 8.62x5.31x0.45 in, Weight: 1.1 lb (with keyboard 1.96 lbs)
  • Price: $429.99 (32GB model $379.99)

The tablet

Right side
Right side (L-R): microSD; volume up/down

The Acer Iconia W3 is a highly mobile tablet that has quite a lot of features for a relatively low price. The Intel Atom processor used by Acer in the W3 provides a balance between battery life and performance. The W3 runs fine most of the time with occassional lags due to the Atom. It runs about the same as every Atom-based tablet I've tried.

The review unit has 64GB of storage and there's a 32GB version available for $50 less. According to Acer, the two models are otherwise identical so the choice is straightforward.

The display on the W3 is 8.1-inches and running at a resolution typical for tablets this size (1280x800). Unfortunately, until Windows 8.1 comes along, this low resolution means snap view, the ability to pin two apps side-by-side on the screen, is not allowed. I use this feature a lot on other tablets and miss it on the Acer W3.

Acer claims a battery life of 8 hours on the W3 and from what I've seen that's fairly accurate. I haven't used it long enough to make an accurate assessment of how long the battery will last.

Top side
Top (L-R): Power button; dock slot; microUSB; microHDMI

The W3 is designed to be used primarily in portrait orientation and it works well this way. I'm surprised that Windows 8 works so well in portrait on such a small display. It auto-rotates into any orientation to fit the situation.

I've read some reviewers complaining about the inclusion of a hard Windows button instead of a touch button, but I like this choice by Acer. When using tablets with a touch button I keep accidentally touching it which interrupts my work. This never happens with a physical button like the one on the W3.

There is a microSD slot for expanding the memory on the W3. This slot only handles memory cards up to 32GB unlike most of the competition which handle cards up to 64GB. This was obviously a design choice to keep the cost down. There is a microUSB jack for attaching peripherals, but it only supports USB 2.0. Next to this jack is a microHDMI for connecting the tablet to a monitor or TV, a nice touch.

The power adapter plugs into the device via a proprietary jack, located on the bottom side when held in the primary portrait orientation. That's also where the audio in/out jack is located, along with stereo speakers. Audio playback is decent but not as loud as other tablets I have tested.

The volume up/down buttons are located on the right side of the tablet, along with the microSD slot. The rest of the connectors are on the top of the W3, and include the microHDMI, microUSB and the power button. There is a strange slot on the top of the unit that looks like a SIM slot. It's actually a dock latch for securing it on the bottom of the optional keyboard unit.

Optional keyboard

Tablet docked side view
Tablet in keyboard stand

Acer sells a keyboard accessory for $79.99 that is nearly full size. It is a Bluetooth model that includes a stand for the tablet. The keyboard is powered by 2 AAA batteries instead of a rechargable scheme as is common for similar products.

The bottom of the keyboard has a recessed spot for inserting the Acer Iconia W3 for transport. The tablet fits in the slot face down as shown below and snaps in via a special slot on the tablet. It's nice to have this option for transporting the two units but it feels a bit unwieldy given the size and weight.

Tablet stored in dock bottom
Tablet stored in optional keyboard for transport

The keyboard is fairly good for fast touch typing, although it's not as good as other keyboards I've used. It is fairly heavy (tablet and keyboard weigh almost two pounds together), which is to provide stability when in use. The two rubber feet on the bottom of the keyboard away from the user slide out a little to provide even greater stability. The tablet rests freely in the slot that makes up the stand so it must be used on a stable, flat surface.

Keyboard dock
Keyboard accessory

There is no trackpad on the keyboard for the W3 and I find that an unfortunate ommision. Windows 8 is easier to use with both a touch screen as on the tablet and a trackpad. The W3 display is so small that some controls in legacy apps can be very hard to operate on the touch screen. A trackpad or trackstick solution would be a welcome addition. It would be hard to fit it on the keyboard unit which is already almost too big for comfort, but I'd like to have it. An optical trackstick as found on the Lenovo Tablet 2 keyboard would be perfect.

Optional portfolio case

Portfolio case
Optional portfolio case used as tablet stand

The portfolio case is a simple model that protects the tablet and also serves as a stand. There are two slots for propping the tablet up at two different viewing angles. The case is light, a good thing since the tablet is a bit heavy for an 8.1-inch model.

Acer sells the case for $34.99.


Acer has designed a solid tablet for a relatively low price. The use of the Atom processor gives a balance between good performance and battery life. The W3 performs about the same as every other tablet with an Atom processor so it's a reasonable value for the price.

The 8.1-inch display supports Windows 8 well, although desktop apps can have tiny text and controls. The lack of snap view in Windows 8 due to the low resolution screen is a disappointment, but will be rectified when Windows 8.1 is released.

The Acer Iconia W3 is a good fit for those wanting a smaller tablet with Windows 8. It is a bit thick and heavy compared to other 8-inch tablets on the market. This seems to be standard for smaller tablets with Intel inside.

Three 8 inchers top view
Three 8-inch tablets-- Acer W3; iPad mini; Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.0

Topics: Mobility, Tablets, Windows 8

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  • Curious about legacy Window's apps on a relatively low-res & small screen

    Personally, I wouldn't spend my money for this type of experience. But like the old adage goes about the camera you have at the moment, I suppose the best WinTel computer you own is the one that you have access to at the moment - even if it is an Acer W3.
    • Re: Curious about legacy Window's apps on a relatively low-res & small scre

      Is there such a thing as a "non-legacy" Windows app?
  • I like it.

    The idea of a tablet that I can run an OS I actually like on? Bring it! I'll buy 'em in bulk! I hate Android and the cloud crap, but I'll happily shell out money for tablets that I can actually force to behave like a real machine. Fedora on that thing with XFCE and an on-screen keyboard sounds tacky, but I like the idea. I really do.
  • Let's summarize

    Less than 2 lbs is too big and bulky.

    No trackpad sucks.

    No ability to have more than 1 app on screen at the same time (ignoring the fact that you can) means you can't be productive.

    No support for USB 3 peripherals means you are severely limited in what you can connect.

    So when are you getting rid of your ipads and their big bulky heavy cases and keyboards? Oh, you aren't. Right. When you reviewed THOSE devices, you never mentioned any of the above as being negatives.

    This is why you gave no credibility James. You simply aren't consistent with your reviews.
    • Apples and Oranges

      He mentioned these things because they are important to a Windows 8 machine, particularly the trackpad and using multiple apps onscreen. What would you use a trackpad on an iPad for?
      • Todd has a point

        Actually, I have to agree with todd on this one, other than the trackpad comment (because the iPad really doesn't need one). You can't be disappointed in the lack of more than 1 app, USB3 support (or lack of any other port for that matter) on a Windows 8 tablet and still be such a huge fan of the iPad.

        And you certainly can't use the excuse that you do different things on an iPad than you would on a Win8 device, because it has been made very clear that the iPad does EVERYTHING that is needed for work and play.
        • Re: Todd has a point

          Of course, he does.

          Whether his point matters to anyone else is a different question.

          As the comment to which you reply indicates, these are things that are important to an computer running Windows 8 on Intel architecture processor. Without these abilities, the value of an Windows 8 tablet is pretty low.
      • The same things you use a trackpad for on A Windows tablet

        1. Fine control of cursor when editing text or working with spreadsheets. Working with spreadsheets on my ipad was a huge pain. On my Surface it is so efficient.

        2. Remote desktop control. Another thing that was a huge pain on my ipad.

        3. Running osx apps. Okay, you can't, but that is a negative itself. And yes, something can be a negative even if it doesn't affect you personally. The mythical bulk of the Surface and Lumia are constantly mentioned in reviews even though they don't affect me. A review must list all the things you can't do with a device so people can make informed decisions as to whether or not they want to do that.

        If ipad and Windows 8 tablets are truly apples and oranges then they must never be compared again in any review. James, will you agree to that?
        • Another advantage of trackpad

          After reading baggins gorilla arm comment on another post, it is clear that James is in constant pain since he has to keep his arms outstretched all day in order to use his ipad laptop (that's what it is when it is attached to keyboard). A trackpad allows you to rest your arms and is therefore an ergonomic feature totally missing from the ipad. The ipad will give you gorilla arms. Baggins says so.
    • Anger managment issued

      Even when James provides a mostly positive review of a windows machine ToddBottom becomes unhinged.

      Dude, you need therapy.
      • Unhinged?

        I presented factual arguments. That you are unable to debate those points is your problem, not mine.
        • Factual arguments?

          Factual arguments? Hardly. You put words in his mouth and argued against the straw man of your own creation. James called the lack of a trackpad "unfortunate" on a Windows tablet that also features a desktop mode. You turned that into "it sucks." He noted that it is thicker than other 8" tablets that run iOS and Android. You seem to think that for some reason that should count as an indictment of the 9.7" iPad. James notes that the USB connector on the device is only USB 2.0. Apparently in your world, simply mentioning that fact makes you a shameless hypocrite.

          For some peculiar reason you seem to think that every review of a windows tablet should be in the form of a comparison with the iPad, noting only the areas in which the Widows device is superior to the iPad.

          You really need to get a grip. Seriously.
        • not factual arguements usally dude.

          you provide windows PR usually.. and slag off anything to do with Google like they are the twice convicted predatory monopolists instead of Microsoft.

          On the other hand, at least you are consistent with your shilling.
      • agreed

        This is a very objective review of win8 tablet. It's comparing win8 to other win8 tablet. No mention of Apple or Android tablet. Kudos kendrick
        • Agreed

          By itself there is nothing wrong with this review. When viewed in the context of James' other reviews, it isn't consistent.

          All reviews of ipads must mention that they are big and bulky when used with a keyboard and that it is unfortunate they don't have trackpads, and that they suck because they can only show 1 app at a time. Otherwise they are not honest ipad reviews.
    • Almost there.

      I think I'll wait for the version with USB 3.0, Win8.1 and the ability to use >32GB microSD cards. And maybe a bit faster processor. Although, from what I've been hearing, a dual-core Atom isn't actually that painful with Win8.
      rocket ride
      • ALMOST

        An Atom with an SSD isn't painful, even a single core can be decent. I've been using one as a travel machine since they came out. It runs everything I need to take care of emergency support while traveling - our proprietary applications, Excel, SQL Server, IE, Crossloop, and complete customer histories.
  • Acer never gets hardware design correct

    Windows 8.1 portrait mode seems excellent, but this Acer tablet looks ugly.
    • Re: Acer never gets hardware design correct

      Don't be too fussy. If you want a Windows tablet, what other choice do you have?
      • Microsoft, HP and others

        all have Windows tablets, with the Surface tablet as one of the best designs of any tablets. He could go with a better looking one from one of those companies but personally I’ve never worried a lot about how the tablet looks turned off, sitting on the kitchen table